Norway

Ever since I left Greece in 2010, I made it my mission to visit “cooler” countries. It is so tempting to go back to Greece and enjoy the warmth, to visit friends and live the life I was used to for 14 years, if only for a while… But earlier this year while visiting Scotland I fell in love with the unspoilt and breath-taking beauty of green landscapes, waterfalls, mountains, lochs and I want more of this!

One of my best friends is half Norwegian and I have heard her stories about Norway’s varied landscape of steep fjords, high mountain peaks and rugged wilderness. More and more (the older I get, how cliché) I am drawn to nature, so visiting Norway would just be a dream come true. Buro ScanBrit, the same tour operator that took me to Scotland for a study trip in May now has a study trip to the land of trolls. And lucky me, again I have the privilege to join them on a new adventure.

Day 1: from the Netherlands to Kiel

At the end of August, we leave the Netherlands early in the morning by bus to go to Kiel in Germany. We travel by luxury coach, Berend is our driver, who takes us via Bremen and Hamburg to Kiel. We arrive at the end of the afternoon and we board the Stena Germanica. The ship departs early in the evening and we will arrive in Gothenburg, Sweden the following morning.

The ship is completely renovated in 2010 and has beautiful cabins and facilities, so we are very comfortable. We spend the night in cabins for 2 and have dinner and breakfast on board and I can tell you the food is pretty good. I love to travel by ferry, there is something adventurous about it (well, to me there is anyway); leaving a port behind you, ready to discover new places… As long as it is light outside I try to stay on deck to see the surroundings and early in the morning I see how the ship enters Gothenburg, Sweden. We pass bridges, colourful wooden houses, shipyards and more before we get on land.

Day 2: from Gothenburg to Oslo

Once on land we are right in the middle of unspoilt Swedish nature. We drive along the coast from Sweden to Oslo and make a lunch stop at Tanum Strand, not far from the border with Norway. This original fishing village is a pleasant seaside resort. The park where we have lunch has various holiday homes scattered along the coast; they look cosy and inviting to stay (can I for a while?). In the harbour there are plenty of sailing boats and I love it here! Well… as long as I am at the coast, I am happy!

In the afternoon we arrive in Oslo, the capital of Norway. Here we meet Belgian guide Hilde, who joins us on the bus for a city tour. She tells us about life in Oslo and Norway in general and living here does not sound bad at all. It is interesting: within Europe we have so many different countries and life is different in each and every one.

Oslo is not all about wooden homes, but mostly about concrete and brick; the city is different from the rest of the country and you need a few history lessons to know why. But this city is pretty special and there is amazing architecture to be found everywhere.

Our first stop is at the Holmekollen Ski Jump, which was built in 2010 and is already too short for long jumpers! From here we enjoy the amazing view on Oslo and the nearby islands. The next stop is Vigeland Park, filled with beautiful statues by the sculptor of the same name. It is the world’s largest sculpture park made by a single artist and one of Norway’s most popular tourist attractions. I can understand why: it is really a must see, whether you are into arts or not: for sure you will love it. The park is lovely and spacious and the statues are so beautiful. I love the fountain, one of the highlights and I think I stood still for at least 5 minutes to watch; it is very powerful.

We drive to the Opera House; now this building has cost a small fortune so Hilde tells us (half a billion euro’s) and was opened 3,5 years ago! It is a beautiful building that looks like an iceberg sticking out of the water. It is a landmark for Oslo and home to the Norwegian Opera and Ballet. You can take a walk over the roof, which we did and that is pretty special. From the Opera House we walk to the Akerbrygge entertainment area at the harbour. There is a boulevard full of bars and restaurants; plenty to choose from. We have dinner at restaurant Louise, which is decorated in a maritime style and where the food is incredibly tasty. We spend the night in Thon Hotel Slottsparken and I wish I had more time in this city to explore; who knows… maybe next time!

Day 3 of 9: from Oslo to Hemsedal.

From Oslo we will drive through the valley of the Hallingsdalselva (you seriously have to practice to pronounce those Norwegian names). After about 40 minutes on the bus we pass Utøya, the little island where a terrible tragedy took place about a month ago. The images from the news are still very fresh in our memories and it is just a horrible story. We think about the people, mostly teenagers, who lost their lives and we think about the people whose lives will never be the same again. What a sad part of history this will be. On the side of the road it is still full of flowers and we feel sad; how can you not feel sad. The island looks beautiful and peaceful from a distance; there is a rainbow above it the very moment we drive by.

We visit the town of Flå, where the Vassfaret Bjørnepark (Bjørneparken) is located. Various animals live in this park and we see bears, moose and wolves. It is a great park for families, the animals have plenty of space and are well looked after. While watching the bears, I wonder who is watching who; they are very curious. The moose are amazing animals who seem very relaxed here and we even get a glimpse of the wolves. Before we move on we enjoy a lovely Norwegian soup in the restaurant and drive to Hemsedal and the village which carries the same name.

Hemsedal is a winter sports resort and one of the most popular ski resorts in Norway! But people love to visit the area just as much during the summer! Nature here is so beautiful and nature lovers, hikers and cyclists can enjoy themselves here to the fullest. We visit different accommodations, it is good to know what we can offer our clients and we are impressed by the variety of hotels, apartments and log cabins.

We drive to Rjukan Waterfall (Rjukandefossen), an impressive and powerful waterfall and I find myself in the middle of a real life Bob Ross painting. Well, I am not sure if anyone can capture the beauty of this magical place; the scenery is stunning here! It has rained a lot lately and the water is flowing like mad! For the daredevils there is a suspension bridge to the other side of the swirling river, from where you can have a better view on the waterfall. I cannot stay behind, so I cross the bridge. Just do not look down if you are afraid of heights!

We walk back to our overnight hotel Skogstad. The walk is quite an adventure because we need to cross a river and the bridge has disappeared. Michel, who represents the tour operator, becomes our hero; he makes a run for it, jumps over the small river to grab a tree trunk and make it function as a bridge. Enough excitement for today, time for dinner and a glass of wine. We do not care that the wine is expensive is here; it goes really well with the fresh and tasty fish we get served for dinner!

Day 4: from Hemsedal to Voss

We leave Hemsedal and drive to Gol; from here we get on board on the train to Myrdal. The route goes through a mountainous area with tunnels, rivers, waterfalls and lakes. I may like travelling by train even more than taking a ferry boat ride; of course, there is more to see on the way. In Gol we board on the world famous Flåmsbana. This train route is only 20 km long, but has a height difference of 865 meters! It takes about an hour from Myrdal to Flåm. During the train ride we enjoy beautiful views, waterfalls and we pass 20 tunnels, 4 water tunnels and a bridge at an average speed of 35 km per hour.

In the middle of the route we stop by Kjosfossen waterfall and disembark on the viewing platform, We have a short break and a mysterious woman with long blond hair and a red dress emerges from the forest, dancing to a Norwegian folk song. I am being told that she is Huldra, an elusive forest spirit from Norse mythology. According to local folklore, she lures men into the woods to seduce them. Hmmm… when I have a look at my photographs later on, I doubt it whether this person is a woman, but for sure it made us laugh. The waterfall does not need this performance, she is beautiful on her own! But that is just my opinion…

The final station is Flåm, a town located on the Aurlandsfjord and a landing place for many cruise ships and the Hurtigruten ships. There is a cruise ship when we arrive and it is buzzing with tourists. We take a short cruise across the Aurlandsfjord and Nærøfjord to Gudvangen, where Berend is waiting for us. The fjords are spectacular and there is something mysterious about them. But today they also look very serene and calm; we are truly blessed with beautiful weather on this trip. My roommate and I stay on deck as much as possible to enjoy the beautiful views and to photograph. The water must be deep, it is very dark and you cannot see through.

Once we arrive in Aurlandsfjord we drive to our accommodation in Voss: Voss Resort. We stay in a lovely apartment from dark wood and roof tops covered with moss. The outdoors had made us hungry and we go out for dinner before we call it a night.

Day 5: from Voss to Bergen

It is time for a spectacular outdoor activity! After a hearty breakfast we leave for the Voss Rafting Center. Everyone is excited about the adventure that awaits us. Once we arrive at the centre, we receive detailed instructions and a suitable outfit for our adventure. The test for rafting consists of a jump in the cold (ok… icecold) water and a swim through the current to the other side of the river. Brrr… well, that woke us up! No way back now! We have a total of 5 boats and all a companion to guide us safely over the Raundalselva River. I can tell you: it is an amazing experience and there is a lot of water in the river!

Our boat is going in all directions except the right one. We even manage to get stuck on a rock and have to take a spectacular and deep dive while the other boats watch with excitement. I am pretty sure that our guide is thinking about quitting his job; horrified by the thought he would have another group like ours. Then there is a wild rapid that we cannot go through. The boats go down alone and we walk along the waterfront to a rock. After a jump of 5 meters high in the deep water, we collect our boats and go further. After surviving all the rapids backwards, the adventure is over. I think our guide needs a week to recover. The centre offers us a delicious hot meal afterwards, the sun is shining and our day is just perfect! If you do not want to go down the river this way, you can go kayaking in more quiet water or take a mountain bike.

We drive to Bergen, the second city of Norway. We are joined by guide Liesbeth who partly takes us by bus and partly by foot through this wonderful city. Bergen is surrounded by 7 mountains; the city is inviting, cosy, colourful and has the charm of a small town.

We take a tour through the streets, we pass by the fish market we have some time to ourselves to walk around in Bryggen (The Hanseatic Wharf). Bryggen is one of Bergen’s (and Norway’s) main attractions. It was built after the great fire in 1702 and is included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Walking through this area is like taking a trip back to the Middle Ages. The narrow alleys and centuries-old buildings just have an unique atmosphere.

At the beginning of the evening we gather at the Fløibanen, which is a funicular railway. A cable car on rails brings us to Mount Fløyen (also called Fløyfjellet) from where we have a great view over the city. We dine at this magical location and watch the Hurtigruten leave the port into a spectacular sunset. Once we are back down from the mountain we go for a drink at Scruffy Murphys before we return to Thon Hotel Bergen.

Day 6: from Bergen to Geilo

The morning we have another outdoor activity. We take the cable car to Mount Ulriken, where we make a GPS Hike. We do not go too far and cannot really get lost and that is a good thing since we are not used to doing GPS hikes. After a nice hike and a delicious lunch at Sky:Skraperen Restaurant, a long drive to Geilo is on the program.

It is the most beautiful route we have driven so far. We drive for about 55 km along the Hardangerfjord and the views are amazing. We even spot porpoises making their way through the fjords. After Hardangerfjord, The Hardangervidda is just as spectacular! We regularly stop for photos and occasionally take a ferry to be able to travel further.

The sun shines bright and it makes the scenery just look stunning! When arriving in Geilo, dinner is served in our attractive overnight hotel; we spend the night in the Havsdalsgrenda holiday homes.

Day 7: from Geilo to Oslo

Geilo is located at the head of the Hallingdal and is a busy winter sports resort. In the summer months it is quieter, but popular with hikers, anglers, rafters and mountain bikers. We remain active and go to the Geilo activity centre for a “High Rope Course”. It is a spectacular activity for young and old where you “overcome” obstacles at a (literally) high level. Everyone swings from tree to tree like Tarzan or Jane and it brings us in the most hilarious situations. Michel takes photographs of us climbing and doing the canopy. This is where you want to go down gracefully, face forward… but somehow it is my bottom that goes first; very attractive 😉 so no pics below!

We visit the ski resort, although it is closed. Especially for us they activate the chairlift that takes us to the top of Geilo. Berend has brought hot drinks and cake and we enjoy the great view over Geilo. We freshen up, explore Geilo centre, have lunch (cannot remember where) and we return to Oslo. Time goes by too fast, that is for sure. On our way back we have a short stop at the medieval Gordarike Family Park where we get the opportunity to view the beautiful Gol Stavkirke. Gol Stave Church is a true copy of the Gol stave church built in the 1200s. It is very impressive and an important part of Norway’s history!

Once we arrive in Oslo, we take the Stena Saga early in the evening to make the crossing to the Danish town of Frederikshavn. On board we enjoy a delicious dinner buffet. This crossing is slightly busier than on our way up here. That might have something to do with the fact that alcohol on board is so much cheaper than in Norway. You can just go for a ferry boat trip to have a ball.

Day 8: from Frederikshavn to Ribe, Denmark

In the morning we disembark in Frederikshavn, Denmark. From the port we drive to Billund for a visit to Legoland. No family will go to Denmark without visiting this world-famous amusement park. The park has been named Denmark’s best amusement park several times and we have the whole afternoon to feel like a child again. I am not a big Lego fan, but you have to admire how everything is built and it is a very friendly family park and I can imagine that children have a blast here. I do enjoy it though and am happy to have been here; I know exactly which families would love to go here.

On the evening program is a dinner and tour through the oldest town in Denmark: Ribe. Ribe is one of the few towns, which still has a beautifully preserved medieval town centre with old half-timbered houses, cobblestone streets and a cathedral as the crucial centre point. When walking through this lovely town, it is like we stepped into a time machine and went back in time. We have a lovely dinner at Dagmar Hotel. We spend the night in holiday homes at Ribe Byferie Resort. It is our last night before we go back home and we have a drink before going to sleep.

Day 9: from Ribe back to The Netherlands

This study trip has come to an end unfortunately. We enjoyed this wonderful trip so much and are impressed by everything we have seen and done. Norway is a must see, a country so beautiful, so pure… It is easy to reach by ferry boat, by plane (there are airports in most big towns). There is an awful lot to see, to admire, to enjoy, to do and the population is incredibly friendly. It may not be cheap (none of the Scandinavian countries are), but Norway is worth it! We have only seen a small part of this amazing country and I sincerely hope to go back someday!

Travel Blog by Elisabeth, One Lucky Traveller

September 4, 2011

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